Collared Pratincole at Ham Wall RSPB, Somerset – 13th July

On my only completely free day of this week I wished, naturally enough to hit the road and go somewhere. And given a recent burst of enthusiasm for high summer butterflies I now rather fancied doing some dragonflies. So the presence since Sunday of a potential British bird list addition on the Somerset Levels offered a dual purpose day out: an Odonata-friendly location with insurance against poor weather.

Having left a bright and sunny Oxford I arrived at Ashcott corner car park (ST449397), between the Avalon Marshes reserves of Ham Wall and Shapwick Heath, with the grey stuff seemingly filling the length and breadth of the levels. This location has produced a number of lifers over the years: most recently Dusky Warbler (see here); and previously Hudsonian Godwit (here), Pied-billed Grebe (Feb 2013) and European Roller (Jun 1989).

To quote RBA: “The Somerset Levels are fast becoming a top rarity venue as well as Britain’s best rare herons and egrets breeding site”. Today’s attraction was a Collared Pratincole, renowned as a wader that feeds aerially. This is a bird I self-found and viewed well in Portugal (May 2014) and had also observed in la Camargue, France and Coto Donana, Spain two years earlier. A southern European breeder that winters in sub-Saharan Africa, it is the most widely distributed of the world’s eight Pratincoles and also one of the largest.

collared pratincole.01

Collared Pratincole  © rights of owner reserved

When I reached the second viewing platform at Ham Wall, from where the bird was being reported, rain began to fall. Most of the birders gathered there moved to shelter under trees a short distance back along the path. Then one called the Collared Pratincole and showed it to me in his scope, after which I quickly located the bird myself. It was sitting on the ground in the middle distance amongst Mallard and Lapwing, and I was able to put other birders on to what they acknowledged was a better view. The image (above) is outsourced but today’s bird was in more or less the same pose, if against a green backdrop.

At some time after 12pm fair weather set in from the west and the Pratincole took to the air. I then watched it for around 20 minutes or so hawking for insects over much of the landscape in the pictures below.  It had an elegant jizz suggesting a large Swift with the grace of a Tern. Though a very fast flier the white rump and long forked tail stood out clearly. But the name “collared” is misleading since the feature referred to is not a collar and is also present in other Pratincole species. Hence this one is also referred to as Common Pratincole or merely “Pratincole” in  different sources. For the RBA image gallery of the Ham Wall bird see here.

So I have now observed both of the Palearctic Pratincoles in Great Britain. But this was a hugely more satisfying experience than the very brief flight view obtained of a Black-winged Pratincole at the Ouse Washes, Cambs in August 2014. The word satisfying did not apply to my dragonfly watching efforts today. I spent the afternoon a little to the north of the RSPB “home for nature” at Somerset Wildlife Trust’s excellent Westhay Moor NNR (ST455436). A pleasant enough few hours were passed there but no better or even decent odo pictures were gained, and so nothing in the insect line will be blogged.

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